UAW Vote Gives Mixed Signals on Japanese-Style Production
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Auto workers at a General Motors Corp. assembly plant gave mixed signals in a union election billed as a referendum on Japanese-style work rules, the results showed Thursday.
By a narrow margin, members of United Auto Workers Local 645 in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles elected Pete Beltran, who has opposed implementation of the Japanese ″team concept″ rules, as chairman of its negotiating committee.
Beltran defeated incumbent negotiating chairman Richard Ruppert, who favored the team concept as the only way to save the plant from being closed, by a vote of 1,605 to 1,489.
At the same time, union members elected Jerry Shrieves, who ran on the same slate with Ruppert, to replace Beltran as local president.
Results of Tuesday’s balloting were announced Thursday.
Theoretically, te president is the top official in the union, but he is often tied up with administrative duties away from the plant.
The negotiating chairman, therefore, is the most powerful union official within the plant and sets the tone for negotiations with the company.
The election had been uncharacteristically bitter, with the 47-year-old Beltran and his allies warning that the Japanese work rules would erode job protections and could eventually eliminate 800 jobs at the plant.
Ruppert and Shrieves suggested that Beltran’s adversarial approach to dealing with GM could cause the nation’s biggest automaker to rethink its decision about keeping the plant open, saving its 4,500 jobs.
The also suggested that the team concept may have to become the norm to save the domestic auto industry from fierce foreign competition.
Under the team concept, workers are assigned to teams instead of spots on the assembly line. In an effort to increase emphasis on quality, any worker will be able to stop the assembly line if he spots problem. Dozens of specific job classifications would be eliminated as workers take on broader tasks, thereby getting more production from fewer workers.
Last year, 53 percent of the plant’s workers voted to adopt the team concept amid rumors that the plant might be closed down if it were rejected.
Many workers welcomed the change as a way to break out of the routine of production line work and have more control over what they produce.